File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA).
File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA).

Dis-Chem welcomes pharmacists being allowed to dispense first-line HIV prevention and treatment drugs

By Xolile Bhengu Time of article published Oct 4, 2021

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DURBAN – Major commercial pharmacy retailer Dis-Chem Pharmacies has welcomed the news that South African pharmacists will shortly be able to prescribe and dispense HIV medication, including PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) and first-line anti-retrovirals, without patients first having to obtain a script from a doctor.

It said the PIMART (Pharmacist-Initiated Management of Antiretroviral Treatment) programme, the first of its kind globally, will improve the accessibility of HIV treatment and prevention therapy among under-reached and under-served groups and communities by employing health-care service opportunities available in pharmacies.

Tanya Ponter, executive manager for Dis-Chem, responsible for dispensaries across the group, said the pharmacy retail chain was in full agreement with the initiative.

“It’s long overdue that pharmacists are able to best use their clinical expertise to play a valuable role in contributing to ending the high burden of HIV in South Africa. Any endeavour that will serve to broaden the accessibility of treatment protocols to patients and which will support the fight against HIV infections and illness should be applauded by the broader medical community.”

The group said pharmacies allowed for easier access to HIV-related treatment and care as they were open after hours and on weekends and have a broad national footprint. It said furthermore that as pharmacy environments serviced many customers with different needs, they provided a greater level of anonymity and were less stigmatising.

She said: “Anyone who has HIV symptoms or who tests positive for HIV will qualify for this treatment. This initiative aligns with Dis-Chem’s philosophy of prioritising its primary health-care mandate and increasing its focus on providing health-care access to broader segments of the population.”

Ponter said Dis-Chem has (at least) one pharmacist and nurse in each of its pharmacies that have already completed the PIMART training. She also said that Dis-Chem’s clinic department has submitted almost 300 applications for the permit, of which 30% have already been approved.

“At present, the group is relying on telemedicine to expedite this service – pharmacists who have completed the PIMART course can prescribe HIV medication via an online link to HIV clinicians who endorse the script, while Dis-Chem clinics can assist with ARV treatment via a videomed doctor’s consultation. Once all permits are received from the South African Pharmacy Council (SAPC), the full-service offering will be available in Dis-Chem clinics and plans are to offer this service by March 2022.

“We believe that this initiative will go a long way to closing the gap in the fight against HIV by expanding access to the members of the hard-to-reach populations. We are looking forward to receiving full approvals for course accreditation from the SAPC and National Department of Health, which will confirm the endorsement for our pharmacists to prescribe this vital treatment,” Ponter says.


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